Industry Keywords Bury Your Resume

Aug 21 2012 in Featured, reCareered Blog, Resumes by Phil Rosenberg

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Quite often, during the Q & A portion of my complimentary Resume Revolution! webinar (register at, someone will ask …

“What keyword industry lists do you recommend?”

Candidates are often surprised when I answer this question with … None.

I don’t recommend any industry keyword lists.

Of course, the follow-up question is … “Why?”

I don’t recommend industry keyword lists because they don’t work. Good list, bad list, it doesn’t matter … because they don’t work.

Why would you want an industry keyword list in the first place?

We’ve been taught to take the easy way out in job search … because the easy way used to work. When there were candidate shortages, there was so much low hanging fruit that the easy way worked. While a more targeted job search approach might lead to a better job, the easy way still would lead to a job.

I did the same thing, back in my misguided youth, before a mentor showed me how the traditional easy methods of job search no longer worked.

Most candidates want to treat job search like a headache – take a pill and your problems will be solved. Use the words from an industry key word list and your job search problems will be solved also.

It’s impossible for industry key word lists to help your job search

You can find dozens of industry key word lists, by Googling your industry (or job function) plus the phrase “key word list”. It doesn’t take a guru of job search to tell you this … it’s pretty obvious.

What’s not so obvious is that using industry keyword lists to help construct your resume is a ticket on the express train to the bottom of an employer’s Applicant Tracking System (ATS).

If you’re interested in a sure-fire way to remain buried in an employer’s ATS, using industry key words is a great way to get there, However, if you’re interested in having your resume read or being selected for an interview, industry keyword lists won’t help you get there … they’ll actually hurt your chances.

This is counter intuitive for most job seekers, who have been led to believe that there’s one single magical list … if only they could get their hands on this mythical list, their job search problems would be solved.

It’s a fairy tale.

Think about this for a moment and you’ll realize why no single keyword list could exist that will get your resume read, or even increase the chances that your resume will be read.

If you’ve read earlier articles I’ve written about hiring processes, you may remember hearing me talk about how recruiters, HR reps, and small company admins search Applicant Tracking Systems. They’ve been taught to include 7 – 10 criteria in their searches, to get a very short list (about 50 or so) of resumes to look at.

ATS’ aren’t sophisticated enough to search for synonyms … they search for exact matches of individual words and phrases. This means that your resume has to match all of the 7 – 10 keywords exactly, in order to make the list. Even if that HR rep is lazy and only searching 7 keywords, the odds that they will be searching for 7 criteria that exactly match works on your list is somewhere between slim and none … and slim just left town.

Somehow, we’ve gotten it into our heads that recruiters, HR reps and small company admins use that very same mythical list to choose search criteria. That’s just a ludicrous idea.

Warning for parents with young children – make sure your kids can’t read this: The belief that there’s a magical keyword list that all (or most) companies use is like believing that Santa Claus has a delivery list of presents for billions of children worldwide, who were nice rather than naughty. A charming children’s story that anyone over the age of 10 realizes is just impossible.

Sorry folks, for having you lose another little bit of your innocence.

Each company has its own unique language, jargon, titles, measurements, metrics – they use different words and phrases to describe similar business issues. This unique internal language is part of the company’s unique culture. At the same time, each hiring manager has unique problems, challenges, roadblocks and goals. To complicate things even further, each hiring manager has individual priorities.

Even for the exact same job titles, different hiring managers need different things – there’s no single list. At the annual convention for Accounting Managers, there’s no special committee to decide which keywords they will all use to search for accountants, so they can create a keyword list to post online.

Instead, each company has their own unique set of keywords for each position, that HR reps and recruiters use as search criteria.

You won’t find these words on any list … there’s only one way to find them.

… by talking to people inside your target company, taking note of not only problems and priorities, but also of the language that they use to describe hiring manager problems and priorities.

It’s not the easy way out … but it sure is much more effective than assuming that there’s one magic keyword list that works for all employers.


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Author: Phil Rosenberg

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